I Married an African
In the 1960s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor, who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In the course of our 41-year marriage, we made numerous trips to Liberia, including visits to his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County. Throughout the course of our life together, Ben shared his experiences as an African in many different settings. Although he was a committed Christian, he was, at the same time, offended by Christians with racist beliefs. In his words:
An African Student in London after WWII
When I went to England shortly after World War II, I was all alone as an African who spoke mostly German. It wasn’t until I studied at Oxford that I became polished in speaking and writing Standard English.
England was the home of the British Empire. At Oxford, I roomed with a student from India and one from Japan. I missed my family desperately. Christianity and other Africans in England were my refuge. In 1948, I became vice-president of the African Student Association in London.
The London Missionary Society
At one of our meetings, the president of the London Missionary Society requested a speaker to address their group. She said, “We’re facing a new world since the war has ended. Our missionary society wants to redouble its efforts and we’re now interested in hearing directly from Africans rather than returning missionaries. Would any of you be willing to speak?” When I volunteered, she told me I would have twenty minutes to tell them whatever came to my mind as a young Christian.
That evening in the church basement, there were forty or fifty women sitting around tables. There were also a few husbands. After dinner, as the president conducted a lengthy business meeting, I sat near the podium in my best suit with my meticulous notes in my lap.
At last, it was time for her to introduce me. She began by telling about her travels in Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, and Tanganyika, as a young girl with her family. She said that what she saw there became a turning point in her life, in which she became dedicated to bringing a light to the heathen.
“We Must Take Christ to Civilize the Savages”
She concluded by saying, “It’s so essential that we take Christ to Africa to civilize the savages. What they eat, we don’t eat. A lot of them, male and female, go around naked.”
“Since Mr. Dennis must be a product of our work in Africa,” she went on, “I’ve asked him to come and share with us. Perhaps we can learn from him and other Africans how to do more effective work in Africa.”She had spent fifteen minutes on the introduction and mentioned my name once. As I saw the audience soaking up her foolishness, I got angrier and angrier. When I finally got up to speak, I shoved my notes into my pocket, determined to make a rebuttal.
Making some Necessary Corrections
I said, “Thank you all for this opportunity to represent Africa. However, since I have so little time left to speak, I will simply make a few corrections.
“It is written in the Scriptures that the Wise Men told King Herod that they had seen a star in the East of a new king to be born. Since Herod was determined that there would be no other king, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take the young child and his mother and flee to Egypt and to stay there ‘until I bring you word.’
“Ladies and Gentleman, God sent his Son to Egypt in Africa to rescue him from the hand of King Herod. Now I have read my Bible very carefully but I have never seen anything about Jesus visiting England. How then are you going to take Christ to Africa?
“We African Christians have also been called by His name,” I continued, “We too have been saved by the blood of Christ which makes us no less children of God than you are. What should be emphasized is our co-responsibility as Christians. No one, whether he is British or African, is saved by what he or his ancestors have done. Salvation is solely a result of the love and grace of God as proclaimed in John 3:16. Thank you.”
After a meager applause, the meeting was quickly adjourned. Only a few people shook my hand. I was never invited back nor were any other members of the African Student Association asked to speak.
I Wrote our Love Story
After my husband’s death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.